In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, professors and students from the city’s universities took academic refuge in other schools — some as far away as the University of Haifa in Israel.
Now, more than a month after the storm, New Orleans’ universities — including Tulane, Loyola, the University of New Orleans and Xavier — are putting together ambitious plans to reopen by January.
Officials are patching up battered campuses, finding housing for employees whose homes were destroyed, gauging how many students will return and persuading top faculty not to jump ship.
“There might be some people who prefer not to go back to the city, especially if they’ve lost their houses, but for the faculty who have invested a lot in Loyola, they won’t be inclined to hunt for something else,” said Bernard Cook, a history professor at the university.
Cook, who has a visiting assistant professorship at Georgetown until his school reopens, said he is splitting his time between the university and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where he’s working on a book about diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Romania prior to World War I.
Many New Orleans faculty have taken temporary refuge at universities like Brown, Yale and Princeton, and are using their break from teaching as uninterrupted time to focus on research projects.
“One or two of our people have indicated that they have had offers that they are considering,” said Elizabeth Barron, the vice president for academic affairs at Xavier. “I think most institutions would be a bit above that under the circumstances.”
To lure faculty back with their families, Tulane — the largest private employer in greater New Orleans with 6,000 employees — has received approval from the Orleans Parish School Board to sponsor a charter school for children in the neighborhood.
Kristine Davis, a spokeswoman for Loyola, said the university was working on lining up temporary housing for the 60 percent of its employees estimated to have lost their homes, but such units are in high demand in New Orleans, and will likely be in short supply.
The American Council on Education estimates 75,000 to 100,000 college students in the New Orleans area have been affected by the storm, and close to three dozen universities in the region have been seriously damaged.
The University of New Orleans will start classes next week at its satellite campus in suburban Metairie and will also borrow classrooms at four public schools in the area. Students will mix regular classes with online work, said UNO Vice Chancellor Sharon Gruber.
About 7,000 of the school’s 17,500 students have signed up, and many students are also taking classes at other Louisiana colleges. While the main campus remains closed because of damage, officials hope to reopen there by the end of the year.
On Tulane’s campus for the first time since he escaped Katrina’s flooding in an old motorboat and a hot-wired golf cart, university President Scott Cowen said only about 100 of the school’s 13,000 students have said they don’t plan to return. At Xavier, Barron said she’s only heard from “perhaps 10” of the school’s approximately 4,100 students who say they won’t be returning.
— Associated Press
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